San Diego Highlights Innovative Technology and Market Mechanisms with New Implementation Model for Street Light Retrofits

The City of San Diego has published a new Implementation Model highlighting their city-wide lighting retrofit project, and the process by which they were able to execute and pay for it.

In response to California’s energy crisis in the early 2000s, the City of San Diego created a new department – the Energy Conservation and Management Division. As part of the City’s Climate Action Plan – which lays out projects related to the City’s energy independence goals – that Division created a Street Light Working Group, which supervised the retrofit project in cooperation with local utilities, stakeholders, and other relevant government departments.

The first wave of the project was an Induction retrofit upgrade for all 35,000 city-owned lights, paid for in part by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. The success of that effort (completed between 2010 and 2012). The entire project was funded from a mix of federal, state, and local sources and capped at $16 million. 

After conducting a street lighting assessment survey and pilot, the City began the second phase of the project in 2014, replacing 3,600 existing street lights with LED LightGrid technology equipped with embedded wireless GPS controls, allowing the City to track and manage real-time energy use at light poles. They also worked very closely with the local utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), as their support was necessary to get an approved street light meter and work towards a smart meter utility rate.

One of the drivers for selecting the LightGrid technology was its wireless adaptive controls; these made it possible for the City and SDG&E to develop a time-of-use tariff that encourages efficiency and allows the City to save on utility costs by having the ability to dim street lights. Under the “pilot” tariff that was established, the City would pay for electricity based on usage, versus the previously higher, flat-rate per-pole tariff.

At the end of the process, they shared their RFPs, financing measures, and specifications with other Southern California cities looking to do something similar. San Diego also included a Public Agency Rights clause in all its RFPs, which allows other localities to “piggy-back” onto the contracts that San Diego received, guaranteeing similar pricing for identical equipment and services. This streamlines other cities’ street light retrofit projects.

San Diego has cut street light energy use by 50 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the community and businesses affected have provided positive feedback regarding the lights. The inclusion of 80+ local stakeholders built up the sense of community ownership in the project, further ensuring its success.

You can learn more about this Implementation Model, Advancing Efficient Street Lighting through Fixture Upgrades, Adaptive Controls, and Enabling Utility Rate Mechanisms, and the City of San Diego’s Better Buildings partnership, in the Better Buildings Solution Center!